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Virus prompts early Midnight Mass for Pope

Pope Francis will celebrate Midnight Mass earlier than usual to comply with Italy’s anti-coronavirus curfew and will deliver his Christmas Day blessing indoors to prevent crowds from forming in St Peter’s Square.

The Vatican on Thursday released the Pope’s COVID-19 Christmas liturgical schedule.

It said the Pope’s December 24 Mass – which for years hasn’t been celebrated at midnight at all but at 9.30pm to spare pontiffs from the late hour – would begin at 7.30pm this year.

Italy has imposed a 10pm curfew as well as restaurant closures and other restrictions to try to prevent crowds from forming following a surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Pope Francis’ other Christmas appointments were confirmed but his December 25 noontime speech and blessing will be delivered from inside St Peter’s Basilica rather from the loggia overlooking the piazza – an appointment that normally would draw thousands of people to the square on Christmas morning.

The Italian government has decided to maintain a hard line on anti-virus restrictions over the holidays in a bid to prevent families from gathering in big groups.

Public health officials have said inter-familial transmission was one of the biggest drivers of new infections in this second wave, which has killed more than 25,000 people.

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